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Sports Meetings

Sports mean big business in the meetings industry. Whether it’s a 10,000-person Cyclo-cross championship or a 10-person football coaches meeting, cities and CVBs know the value in both traditional and emerging sports and do everything they can to court sporting events.


Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville has not one but two convention centers: the 250,000-square-foot Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown and the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC), with more than 1 million square feet and two arenas next to the Louisville International Airport.

Unlike many cities that have plenty of diamonds and fields but lack indoor space, Louisville is the reverse; it has a ton of indoor space but is “softball- and baseball-venue poor,” said Gen Howard, senior sales manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s sports market.

The KEC draws large-scale volleyball and basketball events, and the downtown center gets events such as fencing and gymnastics. Downtown is also home to the KFC Yum! Center, a 22,000-seat arena used by the University of Louisville basketball program.

An emerging sport for Louisville is Cyclocross, a type of bicycle racing with courses that include pavement, off-road trails, grass, hills and obstacles. A few years ago, the city worked with the Louisville Sports Commission to build the Eva Bandman Park and Cyclo-cross Venue on a parcel of land next to the Ohio River near downtown. In January 2013, the park was the site of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, which drew nearly 10,000 people to the city, Howard said.

The Louisville Sports Commission, along with Cadence Sports, also now owns and operates an annual Cyclo-cross event called the Derby City Cup, which draws about 2,000 people every November.


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is in the process of setting up a separate sports commission and hopes to have Greater Myrtle Beach Sports finalized in the first quarter, said Mike Anderson, executive director of sports tourism for the CVB. The commission, like the CVB, will represent the beach communities along the 60-mile “Grand Strand” from Little River to Georgetown.

In addition to creating a stand-alone sports commission, the city is getting a new facility that will expand its sports market. Myrtle Beach is known for its diamond sports, mostly baseball and softball, although there’s a huge local kickball market, Anderson said. The city has long used the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for indoor sports and competitions: dance, cheerleading, color guard and more.

But the CVB has struggled in markets such as basketball because the convention center is often booked up, and available indoor facilities are “too scattered over the 60 miles,” Anderson said.

Enter the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, a $12.4 million, 100,000-square-foot indoor facility that will share a parking lot with the convention center. The complex will allow the community to go after more basketball, volleyball, wresting, martial arts and similar court sports, he said. Construction began in February 2014, and the complex is expected to open in March.


Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine, doesn’t have a convention center, but it has plenty of outdoor space.

“We do really well going after sports that don’t require traditional indoor spaces,” said Elissa English, director of sales and marketing for  the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We do best looking at creative outdoor spaces, not preconditioned sports courses.”

That includes outdoor adventures sports such as Tough Mudder, an obstacle course challenge race. The city hosted its first Tough Mudder in 2014, drawing 15,000 people over two days, and the race will return again this year, English said. Organizers took over Sunset Ridge Golf Course
and “turned it into a big, muddy obstacle course and race,” she said.

Portland is also home to a “ton of road races and marathons” in the summer, including two that end with craft beer festivals; and the city hosted its first Santa Hustle 5K in November, she said. SailMaine brings a regatta to Casco Bay every year, and USA Ultimate, as in Ultimate Frisbee, held its first regional championship in Portland in 2014 and will return this May.

But Portland also has its share of indoor sports. The Professional Bowlers Association is bringing its annual PBA League Elias Cup Finals to the city in March, and Cross Insurance Arena, a 7,000-seat multipurpose complex, also recently completed a $33 million renovation and expansion.


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“There’s a lot going on sportswise for us,” said Sue Hollenbeck, director of sports business for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The city does everything from youth soccer tournaments to Olympic training, she said. In 2014, Oklahoma City hosted three NCAA championships: the Division I National Wrestling Championship and the Division I National Volleyball Championship — both for the first time — and the Women’s World College Series, which is held annually at the ASA Hall of Fame Complex. The 15,000-seat Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Cox Convention Center, with a 13,000-seat arena and a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, respectively, are located beside each other in downtown and are often used for indoor-sport events.

On the meetings side, 2014 was also a big year for the city, which hosted the National Association of Sports Commissions in April, and the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s best practices conference, both in October.

One of the city’s major sports facilities is the Boathouse District, an Olympic training site for both USA Canoe/Kayak, which calls Oklahoma City home, and New Jersey-based USRowing.

The Boathouse is now building an 11-acre, $45 million white-water park adjacent to the Oklahoma River, so “we’ll have white water and flat water next to each other,” Hollenbeck said. Riversport Rapids will simulate white-water river conditions, with the exception that both the water speed and the in-water obstacles can be controlled. The center will be complete in spring 2016, in time to host the U.S. Olympic trials.


Wichita, Kansas

“It’s incredible what’s happened in this city over the past 10 years with sports and venues,” said Brian Hargrove, director of events and marketing for the Wichita Sports Commission. “It’s a sports-loving city, and every year it gets bigger and better.”

Much of that growth has come as a result of the 2010 opening of the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena in downtown. But Wichita has been a “sports-loving” city for a long time, he said. The Wichita Sports Commission has been around for 18 years, and Go Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, recently hired a full-time sports person who works hand-in-hand with the commission, said Susie Santo, Go Wichita president and CEO .

In November, the NCAA announced it would hold the first and second rounds of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the Intrust arena. The U.S. Bowling Congress also recently awarded the city its 2019 United States Bowling Congress Women’s Championship, which is expected to bring 30,000 bowlers, family members and attendees to the city over three months.

Wichita will host the 2015 Special Olympics National Softball Tournament and the YMCA National Gymnastics Championships in June at the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, which has nearly 200,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Wichita is also home to the Bar2Bar MX motocross track, the Fast Forward Premier Athletic Facility and the YMCA Farha Sport Center, which looks like a high-end health facility, “not your grandfather’s Y,” Santo said.